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starting an amateur coop

Old 04-26-15, 08:08 PM
  #1  
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starting an amateur coop

Hi-

Just wanted to get some general advice as I start a little hobby out of the backside of my woodshop. I work for a University and have recently noticed how many bikes they throw away or .. in the best case.. donate to non profits (after letting them sit outside for a year gathering rust).

The idea is that students can come in and work on their bikes, pick up some parts, or buy a real cheap bike and get on the road.

but the truth is, I am a carpenter not a bike mechanic: and seeing the wide variety of tools for all the years of bikes: what do the wise inmates here suggest? I'd be keeping it vintage, as the bikes that get tossed are usually 80s or earlier. so far I have two Raleigh and one Schwinn.

-josh
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Old 04-26-15, 08:21 PM
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many bike co-ops or bicycle kitchens are amateur and non profit too.

I would find one you could travel too and look around, ask questions.
Getting non profit status is an effort, but it will get you donations as folk can then write it off.

I think the biggest expense will be some work stands, besides a roof to work under.
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Old 04-26-15, 08:40 PM
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I would wonder how insurance/liability works for these setups. The last thing you need is someone hurting themselves by doing something dumb with your tools on your premises and then lawyering up on you.
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Old 04-26-15, 08:43 PM
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Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
I would wonder how insurance/liability works for these setups. The last thing you need is someone hurting themselves by doing something dumb with your tools on your premises and then lawyering up on you.
You carry liability, and volunteers sign a waiver. Best you can do. It's up to the person, or persons, running/managing the coop to "screen" the new volunteers. You can tell pretty quickly who can learn, and who will never be able to operate on the shop floor without being a danger.
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Old 04-26-15, 09:08 PM
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...I think that if you are in or near Oakland, you ought to go and talk to the guys at Spokeland, the Bikery, the San Fran Bike Kitchen.

I am on the management core with the Sacramento Bike Kitchen, and based on my experiences there, I'd say your most difficult task is not tools, or insurance, but attracting a solid group of reliable regular volunteers who are somewhat knowledgeable, and are interested in doing such a thing. Were I you, I'd involve myself with one of the above mentioned groups for six months or a year, then see if i still felt like starting one in my own personal space felt like such a good idea. You get a wide variety of people who wander in, and some of them are less than well intentioned.

Not that many, but a few, and it's nice to be able to lock up at the end of the day and leave all that behind when you go home.
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Old 04-26-15, 09:10 PM
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Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
I would wonder how insurance/liability works for these setups. The last thing you need is someone hurting themselves by doing something dumb with your tools on your premises and then lawyering up on you.
...here in California there's another non profit group that specializes in helping non-profit groups (very meta ) One of their services is a liability insurance coverage.
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Old 04-26-15, 10:05 PM
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Re: starting an amateur coop

...as opposed to a "professional" co-op?
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Old 04-26-15, 10:16 PM
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heh. there are certainly more professional than I. As for insurance: I am planning to do this on campus for students- any current student that comes into my shop already has insurance for that space. On Tuesday I am meeting with the dean and put this plan in my annual review plan so I will see if they sign off on it.

the truth is, I have no time to volunteer at any other space than mine: but I do have time to have an open door and help people if they come by - and I can gather bikes relatively easily. so its a start.

But I hear you: I can't do it alone- I'll see if I can recruit student techs who would like to keep some hours - that would make all the difference.
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Old 04-26-15, 10:34 PM
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We have a co-op here.

Center for Appropriate Transport. It is an interesting place.

They have bikes (donated?). Parts donated by the bucket. And, to be helpful, they have to spend at least some time sorting the parts. Still, the good stuff gets picked out quickly and they are left with piles of JUNK. For some things, it may be easier to buy new, especially if they can get them wholesale.

They also have a work area where one can come in and work on one's bike, either paying an hourly rate, or annual subscription.

And, a full machine shop (which, unfortunately, isn't covered by the general subscription), and their frame building classes aren't cheap.

As I understand it, they have several employees that will either work on bikes, or assist people with working on their own bikes. They all get paid $10/hr, and the shop presumably charges for people to use the shop, or for employees to do bike tune-ups.

As far as "junker bikes", I don't think you could limit it to pre-80's bikes. There are a lot of department store bikes that may be using 80's technology, but are of new manufacture.

The nice thing about new manufacture bikes is that there are a lot more strict standards of things like freewheels (almost all made in the last 10 years use either the FR-1 or FR-1.2 remover tool, and have standardized threading). Of course, some things like tubing sizes used to be generally standardized, but no longer is.

It depends a little on the clientele that you wish to work with. At a couple of the houses I've lived at, neighborhood kids would just find me. I suppose I became the "bike man" for doing tune-ups of kids bikes, and word of mouth would spread for blocks around. It usually cost me a little money as I'd try to stock things like kid's bike tires and tubes that I'd never use myself. And, I never asked the kids or parents for any money.

College students might be a little bit different. I'd try working with the University to see if they would donate (or cheaply rent) some University space for you to use.

Expect to buy a pretty complete selection of "professional" tools. No doubt, some things like cone wrenches will eventually wear out and need to be replaced. Others will get "lost". And, non-owners can be tough on stuff.
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Old 04-26-15, 10:51 PM
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good info thanks. I have some limited space (no way they will give me more.. its san francisco!) non specialty tools i either have or can put on the general shop budget. specialty bike tools and stands will be out of pocket probably. the really free thing would be the bikes if I can get approval. The had about 20 bikes at the end of last year... you know.. students just leave them in the dorm room when they leave etc.
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Old 04-27-15, 12:41 AM
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
...as opposed to a "professional" co-op?
I am a professional who works at a professional bike co op.
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Old 04-27-15, 06:30 AM
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Originally Posted by jetboy View Post
heh. there are certainly more professional than I. As for insurance: I am planning to do this on campus for students- any current student that comes into my shop already has insurance for that space. On Tuesday I am meeting with the dean and put this plan in my annual review plan so I will see if they sign off on it.

the truth is, I have no time to volunteer at any other space than mine: but I do have time to have an open door and help people if they come by - and I can gather bikes relatively easily. so its a start.

But I hear you: I can't do it alone- I'll see if I can recruit student techs who would like to keep some hours - that would make all the difference.
On the right track here. Get the University to sponsor it. Will need storage space for donation/parts/etc.

As a frequent donor to the two local co-ops in my area, the one thing they both overlook is convenience for donors. No parking, strange/bizarre hours, etc.
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Old 04-27-15, 07:10 AM
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Originally Posted by jetboy View Post
But I hear you: I can't do it alone- I'll see if I can recruit student techs who would like to keep some hours - that would make all the difference.
If your university includes a college of engineering I'd check with them to either start up a program with them or one of their student clubs (most have a student run chapter of ASME) or at least deposit pamphlets/flyers. The nice thing about contacting a student run tech-based club is shortcutting to potential volunteers who are (in theory) active in self-run volunteer work, presumably at least somewhat reliable, and mechanically inclined. If they don't have a club that fits, you can start your own. A hands-on opportunity for students to gain experience in the 'professional skills' to supplement classroom learning is a good thing. If you find a few gems, they can help manage the co-op/volunteers. Of course, you may just end up herding cats, but that'll likely be a part of this initiative anyways. The trick is finding the best cats. Best of luck, this sounds like it can be a boon to the school and students if you can get all of the pieces and get them to work. FYI, some clubs (ASME) at some schools have a healthy budget which can offer donations to other university clubs and activities.
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Old 04-28-15, 12:33 PM
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good news: The dean was interested and had some suggestions- and gave approval to go ahead! I was able to say I consulted the "bike forum" of experts and get opinions and recommendations on how best to proceed.

so now I need to get in contact with facilities and investigate student groups/recycling committees etc.

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Old 04-28-15, 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by jetboy View Post
I was able to say I consulted the "bike forum" of experts and get opinions and recommendations on how best to proceed.
EXPERTS????

But it does show that you are consulting with others.

I hope you continue to make progress
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Old 04-28-15, 01:35 PM
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That's really good. I think space is the hardest part, so if you can get that set aside for you, you're in great shape. You're a carpenter, so you can build it out yourself.
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Old 04-28-15, 07:32 PM
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yes, I have control of a limited amount of space on campus, and I think I can re-arrange the shop so that 100 sq ft or so can be devoted to the coop with flex space depending upon other needs. parts can be there, full bike storage might need to be in another building unfortunately. we will see. one issue will probably be dust: even with all my dust collectors on when we ramp up for productions the space gets covered.

but its an annoyance not a deal breaker. In any case: it was pretty nice that after all the other things we covered that actually have to do with my job, she was very interested in the last item- the coop- and thinks its a great idea. With a dean at your back you can get a lot accomplished on campus. so I will try and keep you posted as it progresses.

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Old 04-28-15, 08:49 PM
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Is there anything that you need to get the project rolling?

I could probably aid with some small metal fab projects..... As long as it doesn't go overboard.

Of course, shipping could be a bit of a pain. Maybe there is a metal shop at your university or community college that you could enlist.
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Old 04-28-15, 10:15 PM
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From a fellow local university employee, congrats on getting the Dean's support! A bike co-op on just about any university campus is going to be a much-appreciated and well-used resource. And if it serves as a safety net from the scrapper, so much the better.
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Old 04-29-15, 01:09 AM
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I've been with Ottawa's re-Cycles Bike Shop for 14 years. The bike co-op concept is growing. Check out Bike Collectives Network and click on the ThinkTank link and join the listserv (the archive link is unfortunately down and they are fixing it).
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Old 04-29-15, 08:31 PM
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thanks for the link: its on the move- I may have already got my first tech through a chance meeting: he was helping a student with her bike right outside my shop. summer is here and I have a little $$ in from a student group renting my space. So tools are in the works.

gaucho777: are you UC Berkeley? (I am USF) do they have a co-op there? I'd be interested to know how other university based co-ops function.

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Old 04-30-15, 01:40 PM
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@jetboy, I'm in one of the divisions under the umbrella of the UC Office of the President. We were just off the Berkeley campus, and around the corner from Missing Link Co-Op, until last year when we moved our office to Oakland. As far as I know, there is not a co-op on the Berkeley campus. Many UC Berkeley students frequent Missing Link. Have you been there? It has more of a feel of a standard bike shop than a co-op, but they do have two free drop-in workstations equipped with two tool cabinets. They cater to the student/commuter/family crowd more than your high-end racer. Missing Link is on Shattuck between University Ave. and Berkeley Way. There is a retail shop on the west side of the street and a repair shop on the east side of the street (with a cool window display with various vintage goodies, and a Hetchins Magnum Opus tucked away in the rafters). All the people who work there are very friendly, and I'd encourage you see if they have any tips for starting out. Below is just part of their window display, so you know they are good people.



If you do make it into Missing Link, you might also check out Waterside Workshops at the Berkeley Aquatic Park (just south of the University Ave. exit). They are probably more in line with a typical campus co-op. Note their unusual hours before you make plans: Waterside Workshops » Public Shop.

I'll also ping fellow C&Ver, @3alarmer. He does a lot of work with the Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen, and may have some advice, too.

Btw, any chance you were riding in Oakland down Telegraph Ave. near 27th around 5:30pm yesterday? I passed a rider going the opposite direction on a Look KG251 (perhaps a black rolls saddle?), and I wondered to myself if that may have been you. I'd have flagged you down but I was running late to pick up my daughter after school.
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Old 04-30-15, 04:34 PM
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great thanks for the info: I have been to both missing link and waterside workshops: also that co-op out on Alameda- all good places: missing link has helped me out with a few issues in the past and I have used their work stations.


was not me on Telegraph! someone else in oakland must ride a kg251! I mostly ride in san francisco really as all my work is over there.
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Old 04-30-15, 06:48 PM
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One of the things about our local co-op is that a lot of parts in it are sold as buyer-beware.

I realize that thrift stores have a unique situation where they take in some junky donations that are then turned around to people willing to fix them (or re-purpose them).

If you have a source of abandoned whole bikes, then those may, in fact, not be too badly battered, but, of course, the condition may vary.

I suppose I can kick myself for not doing a better parts inspection, but I've accidentally purchased built wheels with cracked hubs, or rims with spokes pulled through.

Some of these should have been sold as scrap metal / art projects.

Anyway, I would think an ethical "bike shop" that sells used parts would have a checklist that they would attach to some of the parts.

Wheels:
  • True?
  • Even Spoke Tension?
  • Broken Spokes
  • Hub Flanges
  • Bearings/Axles
  • Dents
  • Brake Track (< 80% new, or even broken?)
The shop doesn't have to fix everything, but should note the condition on the parts (which also helps with pricing them).

Anyway, if your shop is taking in junk donations, you have to figure out how you wish to deal with selling them.

Or, perhaps not sell them, and just allow "members" to access a parts inventory without all the "cream" being sold.
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Old 04-30-15, 07:29 PM
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I have no advice or wisdom to share. But I think what you are doing is awesome.
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